It must be quite daunting being asked to play a slot that has previously been filled by such legendary bands as Nirvana, Oasis, Iron Maiden and Pixies. Having seen the Kings of Leon play two past Leeds Festivals and just missing out on the top spot (in 2005 justly they played under Foo Fighters on the bill and slightly embarrassingly in 2007 under Razorlight) I felt like their time had probably come. Unfortunately they did too and, unfazed by the magnitude of the task in hand, came out on the Reading main stage with unrealistically high expectations from the crowd. Certainly from watching the BBC coverage of the slot the crowd seemed to be enthusiastic and in good voice as they wailed along to recent singles ‘Sex on Fire’ and ‘On Call’, but it didn’t quite meet the demands of frontman Caleb Followill who told the crowd that he was ‘trying to hold back from saying anything negative’ about their reaction. Drummer Nathan Followill also wrote on Twitter the next day ‘Reading? What the fuck?’ and described the fans reception as ‘cold’ (that’s probably because they were cold).
So when Sunday came I was slightly apprehensive as Kings of Leon came on stage at Leeds Festival, hoping that they wouldn’t let any preconceived notions of grandeur affect their set. Fortunately the evening was somewhat milder than it had been two days before at Reading and the crowd were still riding high from the solid slot that had just been played by local heroes Kaiser Chiefs; subsequently they gave the Tennessee band a very warm greeting. Opening with several songs from latest album ‘Only by the night’ the band then proceeded to mix it up a bit with some older tracks, all of which went down a storm. A few songs in and Nathan was telling the crowd that ‘you’ve blown Reading to hell’ and dedicated ‘Red Morning Light’ to ‘all you people who didn’t just come for two songs.’ It seems that this was the major issue the band took with their southern audience; in their eyes they only showed appreciation for their recent best selling singles. Whilst this may have been the case, this is one of the dangers of signing to a major label and marketing yourself commercially: it has to be accepted. Granted that the people who show up to slur along to the chorus of ‘Use Somebody’ before making a quick retreat may not be ‘real’, long term fans but they still contribute to the financial success of the band. And I don’t see them complaining when the paycheque rolls in!
What really got the audience going was the undying love for the UK which Caleb expressed throughout the set, claiming that it was British fans that made them feel like they could ‘take on the world’ and going so far as to say that the band had never written a song with their American audience in mind. It’s true enough that the Kings do owe a lot of their success to Brit popularity; in 2004 debut album ‘Youth and Young Manhood’ came in at number 3 in the UK album chart, whilst reaching the not-so-dizzying-heights of 113 in their native America. Their second album ‘Aha Shake Heartbreak’ continued the trend by charting number 3 (still 22 places above the US) in the UK charts. As Kings of Leon vanished from the stage with ‘Black Thumbnail’ they left behind them the impression that they were every bit the home grown wonders that ‘Kaiser Chiefs’ were; they were a truly ‘British’ band.
Did they deserve the headline slot? I think so, yes. The set was a satisfying two hour long spate of songs spanning all their four albums; they were a great festival band and really rose to the challenge of playing to such a large and diverse audience. The band were in good voice and good spirits and the sound quality was exceptional. After playing the Reading show the band seemed to come to their senses enough to play a good show at Leeds, perhaps realising that, after all, ‘those rainy days they ain’t so bad when you’re the king.’